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Lancaster High School is making progress in preparing for the not-too-distant day when seniors will have to pass the state English Regents comprehensive exam to graduate.

Seventy-two percent of the school's average grade enrollment of 387 students passed English Regents last year, although the percentage of those passing "with distinction" slipped somewhat, according to the Lancaster district's state report card.

The 72 percent passing figure compares to 63 percent of an average grade enrollment of 358 in 1995 and 69 percent of an average grade enrollment of 382 in 1996. However, 25 percent passed with distinction in those years, compared to 22 percent last year.

Lancaster High's marks look even better when actual numbers of students tested are used. In computing percentages, the state uses "average grade enrollment" -- the sum of the June enrollment in grades 9 through 12, divided by the number of grades -- four.

The school's average grade enrollment last year was 387, although its 11th and 12th grades numbered only about 350 students each. The average was boosted by the ninth and 10th grades, each of which had well over 400 students. Consequently, test-passing percentages in the higher grades are skewed downward by the high average class size used to compute them.

For instance, a closer look at the English Regents exam last year shows that out of the 308 students who took it, 279 -- or 91 percent -- passed. And of the 279 who passed, 84, or 27 percent, did it with distinction.

A mark of 65 is passing. Eighty-five or higher constitutes passing with distinction.

Under new state education standards, students now in the 10th grade will have to pass the English Regents exam to graduate.

But that's only the first new requirement to be phased in. Ninth graders in 2001 will have to pass five Regents exams -- English, mathematics, science and two in social studies -- before they will be able to graduate.

The number of Lancaster High students earning Regents diplomas has also risen over the past three years. "We've made some significant gains, so I would say we are definitely moving in the right direction," said Marcia J. Kaster, director of secondary curriculum and instruction.

In 1995, 37 percent, or 112 out of 306 Lancaster students graduated with Regents diplomas, while similar schools were reporting 47 percent.

The following year, Lancaster caught up as 152 out of 323 students, or 47 percent, earned Regents diplomas, compared to 48 percent for similar schools. In 1997, 49.7 percent of all Lancaster diplomas were of the Regents variety -- 164 out of 330 -- while similar schools reported 50 percent.

The state report card also shows that 52 percent of Lancaster High's Class of '96 went on to a four-year college, compared to 43 percent for similar schools and 52 percent for all public schools state-wide. Twenty-five percent went to a two-year college, 3 percent joined the military and 17 percent got a job, the report shows.

Lancaster students have shown progress in the past three years in most subject areas, with some exceptions in math and chemistry.

"My goal is to continue the steady improvement and to bring more and more students into a Regents-level curriculum," Ms. Kaster said.

On the plus side, she said biology and global studies students "showed some remarkable improvement." On the minus side, the district needs to attract more students to chemistry. "Eighty-eight chemistry students out of a high school population of 1,600? We need a better percentage than that," Ms. Kaster said.

In individual Regents subjects, here are the percentages of average grade enrollment that passed and passed with distinction in 1995, 1996, and 1997, respectively, followed by those in similar schools:

English -- Passing, 63%, 69% and 72%. With distinction, 25%, 25% and 22%. Similar schools, 62%, 64% and 69%. With distinction in similar schools, 19%, 17% and 22%.

Foreign language -- Passing, N/A, 54% and 62%. With distinction, N/A, 18% and 28%. Similar schools, 48%, 50% and 53%. With distinction in similar schools, 21%, 22% and 28%.

Math I -- Passing, 49%, 90% and 79%. With distinction, 22%, 49% and 39%. Similar schools, 54%, 65% and 58%. With distinction in similar schools, 24%, 35% and 26%.

Math III -- Passing, 40%, 44% and 39%. With distinction, 14%, 12% and 21%. Similar schools, 38%, 41% and 43%. With distinction in similar schools, 17%, 20% and 24%.

Biology -- Passing, 56%, 49% and 77%. With distinction, 11%, 8% and 22%. Similar schools, 53%, 54% and 58%. With distinction in similar schools, 17%, 17% and 19%.

Chemistry -- Passing, 24%, 24% and 20%. With distinction, 12%, 9% and 9%. Similar schools, 36%, 38% and 39%. With distinction in similar schools, 12%, 13% and 14%.

Global Studies -- Passing, 58%, 60% and 80%. With distinction, 14%, 15% and 23%. Similar schools, 64%, 64% and 60%. With distinction in similar schools, 18%, 19% and 17%.

U.S. History & Government -- Passing, 53%, 57% and 61%. With distinction, 20%, 27% and 18%. Similar schools, 58%, 62% and 59%. With distinction in similar schools, 19%, 20% and 19%.

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